Protection in emptiness
Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder
Chapter 3 – My History, 2 of 2 : 16+ years – adulthood
From the summer I turned 16 I started slowly and painfully to gain weight. It was frightening and felt out of control but at the same time it was about the one time I was cared for by my mother.
Even so it was tightly controlled by her. If I couldn’t keep to my lowest, most broken weight, I did want to please her by the way I gained weight back. Sounds weird, I know.
But it wasn’t long before she flipped again into her hatred of me. As I was “recovering”, she made my emotions – rising rapidly to greater extremes as I lost the perceived safety of the anorexia – all unacceptable and to be dismissed because, she said, it was all because of the eating disorder. I had to realise what I was putting the family through and how impossible I was to be around.
Then as I continued to gain, the “fat” talk returned. Now she even claimed that my father agreed with her. “You’ve got too much fat on you.” “Daddy was saying last night how he is very worried about the amount of fat you’ve got on you.” “You need to eat fewer carbohydrates and stick to protein. You’re getting far too much fat.” I know now that this was when I had only by a few pounds left the anorexic weight range, to enter the underweight range.
My weight was still going up. I was eating now but knew I was out of control. I tried to stick to what I thought was healthy eating during the day, but at night it was as if the compulsion to eat took over. I couldn’t stop. After dinner when I was doing my homework I’d go back and forth to the kitchen. Even though my parents could see, I couldn’t stop. It was as if something was inside me demanding more and more to eat and it was never enough. I longed for the control of anorexia to be back. But somehow I’d lost it. I was utterly repulsed and disgusted at myself that I could not stop eating. I longed to go back to starving but where had the energy to do it disappeared to?
If I didn’t eat, I couldn’t concentrate on my work. And I was driven to do the very best I could at my schoolwork. It was what my mother needed. Perhaps I was terrified she’d accuse me of “pretending” again and punishing her if I did not do excellently. Her grandiose beliefs about my intelligence increased about this time and she thought I was a “genius” and that “nobody could cope with my intelligence”. I longed just to be normal. Not to have to achieve amazing things and with no superb powers. I knew the grandiose things she said were not real but it frightened me a lot.
Equally she continued to pressure me to diet, to eat only salad during the day, she’d look at me hard and tell me how ugly I was, she’d watch me with a look of utter scorn whilst I was eating, she did not allow me to buy any clothes apart from my school uniform and anything I had needed to cover up how fat I was… she’d tell other people how fat I was… if anyone said anything complimentary to me in her hearing, she’d tell me afterwards how it was very nice of them to say it but I had to remember that they were only saying it to be kind or because they were worried that I might get an eating disorder again, and I must be clear that really I was very fat.
Throughout sixth form, my weight increased, and by the time I began university I was objectively fat. I was binge-eating in secret by this time and furious with myself for it. All the while I was longing for anorexia again but saw myself as a complete fraud and disgusting pig. Why couldn’t I just stop eating again? Every day I’d promise I wouldn’t eat but I’d get through a few hours, then binge.
In the spring term of my first year, my relationship with my mother was breaking down completely and I felt I was drowning in a feeling of emptiness, sadness and I was going through a religious struggle as well, believing in God but terrified of Him as well. Physically I was exhausted and following glandular fever was ill with ME and fibromyalgia which were not yet diagnosed.
Somehow, the pain enabled me to stop eating again. Over a couple of weeks, I reduced what I was eating very fast. I stopped eating solid food and survived on slimline Cuppa-Soups and diet hot chocolate. For 8 weeks, this was all that I consumed. I lost a substantial amount of weight. My friends concerns and discovery of my “eating” patterns led me to start eating again out of guilt that I was hurting them. But I continued to restrict and was sure never to go over 1000 kcal per day.
The next year or so continued like this. My ability to restrict food was still not as strong as I wanted and I lapsed into bingeing. Now I had discovered purging as well. I am not sure how. I started to take laxatives after binges, or try to go running (which I couldn’t because of the post-viral exhaustion). I would overdose daily on laxatives and not care that they made me too ill to do my coursework.
Still I was utterly repulsed by my body. It represented everything foul and uncontrolled I believed was in me.
When I worked in a department store over the summer between my second and final years at university, the physical activity helped me lose weight and some of the anorexic mindset returned. I reduced and reduced my food during my final year and my weight plummeted again. I had stopped the laxatives because they made me too sick to go to my classes and do my work, but if I did binge I would make myself vomit afterwards. Soon it became a compulsion to do it if I ate any more than salad. Doing it until I could tell myself I was sure I had got rid of everything and punished myself enough (ie until I saw bile and blood and could no longer stand up by myself) was “safe” I thought, and I was addicted to the pain and emptiness and the “high” that came afterwards.
Although my weight didn’t drop quite as low this time as it had when I was 15 or 16, mentally I was even further into the clutches of the disorder. It was the best way I knew to punish and weaken myself. I think I did realise I looked ill and realised that I was too thin. Nevertheless, eating, consuming, meant that I was disgusting and I was terrified that I would go out of all control. I did fear fat but even more I feared everything it meant to me and feared not hurting myself.
Around this time, just after I finished university, I was received into the Catholic Church. I was learning not to fear my God and perhaps on some level to understand that he did not think that I was dangerous and that my relationship with Him did not mean punishing myself enough for the badness I thought was in me, before I came to Him. The “God” I had invented in my head during my childhood (before I understood anything of the Christian faith or any more than snippets of the Gospels) was very much a judging, watching, God and to whom I had to atone for all the bad things that I had done.
Shortly after this, I started to want to recover. I was still disgusted at myself but on some level I did want to get to be “normal” and to not be dominated by the disorder. I started eating again. I was very ill physically with ME and a back problem and could not walk without crutches. As my weight went up I got scared again and, without a job at this time, I turned back to the laxatives and overdosed worse than before.
It is hard to really understand or remember quite how I got out of this stage. Perhaps the ability to restrict slipped away again. Perhaps in my struggle to eat normally I did start to win a bit. Perhaps as I got further from the extreme starvation state, my body did not have the drive to binge-eat as much food as possible whilst food appeared to be available, and my control of my appetite returned. Perhaps I just got better at resisting the hunger when I felt the urge to binge (or at replacing food with coffee!). A doctor once told me that most people who recover from anorexia go on to develop binge-eating disorder, because of the physiological and psychological effects of such starvation and being so underweight.
By my mid-20s, I was not underweight and by all external appearances, was recovered. I have to admit that I had taken steps out of the “safety” of anorexia or the temporary “comfort” of bingeing, to more normal, regular eating and an acceptable weight.
The problem was what this left me with. What I discovered lay beneath, which I could no longer conceal and suppress. When these things are too terrible, punishing myself with food / no food, with the distress of purging, is still a compulsion that I have to fight – and give in to at times. An extra struggle at the moment is that I take several medications which slow the metabolism and cause weight gain, and that physical disabilities prevent me from any exercise but walking. Poor finances also mean that I cannot eat as healthy food as I would like and the cheaper options are often higher calorie density. My weight feeling out of control is highly distressing because inside, wishing to be small and tiny is still very much there. That’s the safe thing but it’s now a safe thing I can’t seem to reach to.
I am very thankful that I have recovered to the point I have and I realise the terrible health consequences of staying at a starvation weight or purging regularly. I know the upset it causes to people who care (no matter how much I should wish to be invisible or wish nobody would be hurt but me!). I don’t want to do this to anyone. I know the physical effects prevented me from working (vomiting and stomach upsets from overdoses, heart palpitations, collapsing, debilitating weakness, cramps, regularly catching viruses and infections, poor concentration and memory, and so on) and it would be irresponsible to do something that meant I could not work. I don’t want to be anorexic again but in the dark times, I do in some way think that I wish I could go back there, at least to the place in my head that it opened.
In my following Chapters I’m going to try to describe what that place was, what terrible things I had to admit did lie beneath, and what the eating disorder meant in my life.
Again, I am sorry that this Chapter is not very well written. There is a lot that I am not sure how to explain and the memories are emotive. I’ve also tried not to go too far into my thought processes at this stage because I wanted to give an overview of my eating disorder history here, then in the next Chapters I will go on to say more about the reasons I didn’t eat, purged or binged.